Every CPO/VP Product I talk with is in a battle for product talent. It’s even harder than normal to find and hire product managers (or first-line product directors) with relevant experience. So I’d call this a “candidate job market” rather than a “hiring company” job market. As of today, LinkedIn shows more than 234,000 posted “product manager” jobs in the US.
There are likely many reasons:
- For the next few nanoseconds, tech product management is hotter than blockchain or machine learning or rumors about Federal indictments. Every newly minted MBA wants to be one.
- COVID has opened up remote work options for companies in secondary cities and countries
- More companies want to move toward authentic discovery/validation, OKRs and becoming “product-led”
- Tech is taking over the world (and soon the metaverse)
- Eye-popping comp packages that used to be reserved for senior engineers/architects are bidding up senior product talent
It may be a good time to break into product management, especially via internal transfers to product groups that have been short-handed for a long time.
But this post focuses on experienced individual contributors and first-line product directors who may be in the market. The reverse side of CPO/VP desperation is that you have more options than in 2019 (or perhaps in 2023). This is an opportunity to land somewhere that meets your own needs better, help you learn/grow, and feel good about the hard work you do every day.
So even though it’s against the interest of the CPOs I coach, here are some random DO’s and DON’Ts from the candidate’s point of view.
- Do think about what you want — rather than just what some job posting or company offers. Should your next adventure to be at a much smaller company (more influence, equity, closer to the CEO) or much larger (stability, more mentors, internal opportunities)? B2B, B2C, B2B2C, B2G or C2C? Software, hardware, services, or a hybrid? Products or markets that you care about? Geography? (Although we’ll mostly be remote for another year, some companies will revert back to on-site and others will stay fully remote.) Start with a hypothesis before you’re smitten by an opportunity.
- Do consider interviews as discovery process. Meet folks, have some first-round conversations, ask lots of questions. You can learn a lot, then decide if a company or role is for you. This mirrors how companies think about interviews: a chance to learn about you and then decide. (BTW, once you know that a company isn’t a fit, opt out right away. Avoid wasting everyone’s time.)
- Do your own background check. Find someone currently at that company (or recently exited) who is not part of the hiring process, and ask all of the questions that don’t feel appropriate in formal interviews. Grill them about culture, executive style, whether product folks are happy and succeeding there. FYI, potential employers do background checks on you for the same reason.
- Do negotiate (even just a bit). Other candidates pushing for more money, stock or better titles are getting them. Assume that there’s some wiggle room in offers — but don’t threaten to walk away unless you mean it.
- Don’t forget that recruiting is partly a sales process. When managers and staffing teams are trying to convince you to join, they put the best face on their companies, tell the most upbeat stories, write glowing job descriptions, and try to deflect issues. Be as skeptical about potential employers as you are about internal stakeholders telling you they’ve already designed your ideal solution.
- Don’t quit your current gig — if it’s tolerable — before you’ve lined up the next one. Otherwise, you’ll create tremendous personal/social/financial pressure on yourself to take the very first thing that comes along. (But don’t stay if there are strong reasons to quit: financial irregularities, abusive management, toxic politics.)
- Don’t feel pressured to take the very first offer (if you have time to continue looking). The first company is rarely “the one.” Sleep on an offer before accepting it. You’ll want this one to last.
- Don’t work on questionable or evil products. This depends on your personal worldview/politics/criteria, but for instance I’d be unexcited about companies that…
- Sell or give individuals’ personal location data to foreign governments without permission
- Knowingly promote social networking apps that harm children or promote hate
- Do unnecessary environmental damage
- Aggressively push shoddy or harmful consumer goods and services
- Diverse teams build better products and are more successful. So don’t join a homogenous monochromatic team, especially if you look just like them and you all went to the same schools or strategic consulting firms. You’ll learn more about unique markets and distinctive viewpoints (and maybe yourself) in a rainbow team. Hat tip to Karen Catlin.
- Don’t join a FAANG company (now MAANA, I guess) just to get a credential. Or because you think they are still nimble startups. If there’s something you want to do instead (or a company/product that you really want to work on), go do that. Now’s the time! The FAANGs will be around next year, and some of their hiring cycles take that long.
- Don’t join a company that’s recently had a lot of product management churn (aka turnover) unless you understand what’s been happening. Especially if you hear that 5 or 10 or 20 departing product managers “just weren’t a fit” or “were poor hires” or “didn’t understand the company’s new direction” or “were lazy.” What are the odds that all 20 were inept? Assume that recruiters and hiring managers have some glib explanation that waves away real issues. (Reach out via LinkedIn to someone who used to work there.)
- Don’t join a company that says it wants to move to “product led” but lacks a veteran CPO or seasoned product staff. As an individual contributor or first-line director with no authority and no existing political network, you’d be trying to drive major changes in executive behavior and organizational structures from the bottom up. Thankless hard work.
In the current talent market, experienced product managers have a wide choice of companies, products, cultures, markets, and remote/onsite working arrangements. So think about what you want out of the next gig rather than depending on the perfect hiring manager to find you first.